A BRIEF HISTORY OF THE ROAD, 1877-2014
There are few infrastructure projects with as long or as complicated a history as the Southwest Calgary Ring Road (SWCRR, also known as the Southwest Connector or Sarcee Trail extension).
In many ways it is a story that begins as far back as 1877 with the signing of Treaty 7, and continues on to this very day. It involves Federal, Provincial, City, County and First Nations governments, and many hundreds of ministers, chiefs, MPs, MLAs, Aldermen, Mayors and bureaucrats, plus thousands of citizens; all vying to build a road, protect their interests and deal with the ever expanding city and its appetite for transportation.
All of these points are documented, and references are available on request.
EARLY HISTORY 1877-1958
Pre-1877 – First Nations members establish trails though what would eventually become the Tsuu T’ina reserve, southwest of Calgary. Two of these trails would later become Provincial roads; the Priddis Trail in 1900 and Bragg Creek Road/Highway 22 in 1921.
1877 – Treaty 7 signed by the Tsuu Tʼina (Sarcee) and were allotted a reservation to share with the Blood and the Blackfoot at Blackfoot Crossing (now known as the Siksika reserve, approximately 100 km east of Calgary).
1883 – After leaving the joint reserve, a new treaty was made and the Tsuu Tʼina were granted their current reservation, approximately 8 km southwest of Fort Calgary.
1884 – The City of Calgary was formally incorporated as a town.
1900 – The Government of the Northwest Territories requests a surrender of a strip of land in the Tsuu T’ina reserve for a road from Calgary to Priddis. The surrender is granted, a bridge is built over the Elbow River in the Weaselhead, and the first Provincial road, known as the Priddis trail, is opened across the Tsuu T’ina reserve.
1910 – Land on the Tsuu Tʼina reserve was officially used by the Military for the first time; 3 days of summer training manoeuvres.
1913 – The Tsuu T’ina surrender 1650 acres of land in the northeast corner of the reserve in exchange for proceeds of the landʼs eventual sale. After an economic downturn in 1913, the land was withdrawn from sale and remained unsold for almost 40 years.
1921 – The Department of Indian Affairs agreed to a Military proposal for a 10 year lease on the surrendered lands in the northeast corner of the reserve. At this time, it was also noted that the previously unspoilt land was now unsuitable for any use other than military training because of the damage that the military had caused to the land.
1924 – The Military began to lease an additional 11,000 acres of Tsuu T’ina reserve lands south of the Elbow River for artillery training (Called the Sarcee Training Area).
1931 – The Weaselhead, 593.5 acres of land around the Elbow River, was sold by the Tsuu T’ina to the City of Calgary to protect the headwaters of the future reservoir. The land was sold for $29,675.
1947 – According to former Tsuu T’ina Chief Sandford Big Plume in 2003, the Nation is first approached by the Province about a road through their reserve in 1947. This date does not correspond to known Provincial or City bypass highway planning, and possibly relates to discussions around either the Trans Canada Highway or the Priddis Trail.
1952 – The Canadian Military purchased the remaining 940 acres of surrendered lands in the northeast corner of the reserve for their Sarcee Camp (later called the Sarcee Barracks or Harvey Barracks). This land is defined by Glenmore Trail in the north, 37th street SW on the east, and the Elbow river along the south and west borders. The land was sold for $200,000.
1952 – Calgary produces it’s first modern major road plan. This forward-looking plan is contained to then-current City Limits, and does not include any ring road or bypass facility.
1953 – Calgary MLA Fred Colborne approaches the Ministry of Highways to advocate for a bypass route between the Old Banff Coach Road and Bowness (in the area of what is now Sarcee Trail, between Bow Trail and the Trans Canada Highway). Noting that such a bypass road would be expensive and was not warranted by traffic, the request for further study was turned down.
1954 – The Trans Canada Highway is announced to pass through Bowness by the Provincial Government, crossing the Bow river via the Shouldice bridge. The City’s rejected route, including a crossing of the Bow at Shaganappi trail, is touted as a potential location for a western bypass route.
1955 – Highways Minister Gordon Taylor addresses the Calgary Chamber of Commerce on November 18 1955, where the idea of a potential southwest bypass around the Glenmore reservoir is first publicly announced.
1956 – The Harvey Barracks and north portion of the Weaselhead is annexed by the City of Calgary. 37th street SW north of the reservoir is no longer the city limits, as the Harvey Barracks is legally integrated into the City of Calgary. The city limits now follows the Elbow river from the reservoir to a point directly south of what is now Discovery Ridge.
EARLY ROAD PLANNING 1956-1983
1956 – Calgary details plans for the development of the a Glenmore park around the reservoir, including a north-south freeway which bisects the Weaselhead area of the park, largely along the 37th street SW right-of-way. A Southwest Ring Road route is publicly documented for the first time.
1957 – The City of Calgary makes public their preliminary ring road plan. The plan expands on the previously detailed southwest portion by showing a full outer ring road that acts as a full bypass around Calgary, in addition to two inner ring roads.
1959 – The ‘Calgary Metropolitan Area Transportation Study‘ formally identifies a Southwest Connector road in the area of the Sarcee Barracks, which is for the first time approved by the City of Calgary council. The route of the road is moved away from the 37th street SW alignment to the Sarcee Trail alignment north of the Elbow river. The road was classed as an Expressway. The alignment extended Sarcee Trail south of Glenmore Trail, through the Harvey Barracks, skirting the west edge of the Weaselhead and joining the 37th street right-of-way south of the reservoir at 90th avenue SW. The route did not require any Tsuu Tʼina land.
1963 – The first revision of the ‘Calgary Metropolitan Area Transportation Study’ reclassifies the Southwest Connector road as a Parkway. The alignment changes by being routed further to the east, bisecting the Weaselhead.
1967 – The ‘Calgary Transportation Study’ reclassifies the Southwest Connector Road as a Freeway. No significant alignment change from the 1963 study.
1970 – The Provincial study ‘Calgary Area Study Outline Plan for Roads and Highways’ identified two alternative routes for the Southwest Connector, one that largely mimics the earlier city route within city lands, which was recommended, and an alternative route that located approximately 1 mile west of the 37th street SW right-of-way on Tsuu T’ina land.
1974 – A Provincial study, ‘Calgary Parkway Ring’, prepared by Deleuw Cather Consulting Engineers and Planners outlined a provincial Ring Road that included a portion that followed the corridor previously outlined for the Southwest Connector road. This plan called for the road to be a 4 lane, limited access road with a 350 foot right-of-way.
1974 – The City of Calgary approved the development plan for Midnapore. It states that the portion of Midnapore west of 14th street would remain undeveloped until Sarcee Trail was extended south of the reservoir. The approval of the plan also triggered a ‘route location study’ for the road.
1976 – The Province enacts a Restricted Development Area around Calgary in order to protect the route of the entire ring road. Land purchases begin.
1976 – Tsuu Tʼina begin advocating for the return of the northeast corner of the reserve that houses the military base, arguing that the 1952 sale was unjust.
1977 – The “Sarcee Trail South Route Location Study” by the Engineering firm of Reid, Crowther and Partners identified 3 potential routes for the Southwest Connector, one (Route ʻAʼ) retaining the earlier path within the City of Calgary/Alberta limits, and a further 2 routes (Routes ʻSʼ and ʻKʼ) that would require land south of the Elbow river in the Tsuu Tʼina reserve. All 3 routes still originate at Sarcee Trail. Route ʻKʼ would largely form the basis of the 2009 ring road alignment.
1978 – Transportation Minister Hugh Horner states that a Sarcee Trail extension through the Weaselhead should not become a major southwest Calgary bypass.
1979 – The Province creates the first detailed plans for the ring road. These plans show a road from the intersection of the Trans Canada Highway in the NW clockwise around Calgary terminating at the intersection of Highway 22X and 37th st SW. The route through the Tsuu T’ina reserve is not covered.
1980 – The City of Calgary purchases the 37th street right-of-way south of the reservoir, on the condition that Sarcee Trail is not built through the Weaselhead.
1981 – The Tsuu Tʼina offer to re-purchase the northeast corner of the reserve, which the Military rejects. Because of this rejection, the negotiations on renewing the lease of the 11,000 acre artillery range on the Tsuu Tʼina reservation break down. This results in no renewal for the lease, and the artillery range land is returned to the Nation after 60 years of Military use.
1982 – The City of Calgary, the Province of Alberta and the Tsuu Tʼina agree to co-fund a study to determine the best route for a 6 lane expressway extension of Sarcee Trail. The Nation states that they have not agreed to anything at this point, but say that they want to explore the financial benefits a road might offer them.
1982 – The Tsuu Tʼina sue the Federal Government for the return of the Harvey Barracks.
MODERN ROAD PLANNING 1984-2002
1984 – The Tsuu Tʼina agree in principle to the sale of lands for the Sarcee Trail extension after the 1982 study is completed. This marks the first time official negotiations between the City and the Tsuu Tʼina begin over the land for the Sarcee Trail Extension.
1984 – The Province extends the Transportation Utility Corridor in the west along 101st street SW, south of the Trans Canada Highway to Highway 8.
1986 – Despite having undertaken functional planning for the road the previous year, the City of Calgary cancels the Sarcee Trail extension project.
1989 – South portion of the Weaselhead is annexed by the City of Calgary.
1991 – In an out-of-court settlement, the Millitary returns the ownership of the Harvey Barracks lands to the Tsuu Tʼina. This includes an agreement for the Military to lease the ʻopen rangeʼ section until 2005 (option until 2010) and to lease the barracks section until 2050, if desired. This section of land has been sited for use in every Sarcee Trail Extension plan since it’s inception.
1993 – The Harvey Barracks land is de-annexed by City of Calgary.
1995 – The City of Calgaryʼs GO Plan states that the preferred route for the Sarcee Trail extension location is route ʻKʼ from the 1977 study, which avoids the Weaselhead and goes through Tsuu Tʼina land.
1996 – Harvey Barracks closes.
1998 – Negotiations for the Sarcee Trail Extension road begin again with talks between the Nation, the City and the Province.
2000 – The City of Calgary signs a Memorandum of Understanding on the Sarcee Trail extension. This agreement would have seen the City and Province paying to build the road, but the land would still be owned by the Tsuu Tʼina, leased to the City and Province for road use. Chief Roy Whitney states that a toll road is the only acceptable option for this road. The City of Calgaryʼs documents state that the road isnʼt required yet. The MOU expires 2 years later with no negotiations undertaken.
2002 – The City of Calgary begins preliminary work on three road options for the area: A Sarcee Trail extension through Tsuu T’ina land, a Crowchild Trail/24th street SW extension over the reservoir and a 37th street extension over or under the Weaselhead. These plans are quickly shelved.
2003 – Sarcee Trail Extension Inc., a private company, directly offers every man woman and child on the Tsuu T’ina reserve $80,000 in exchange for their consent to develop a road over Nation land. This offer is considered by the Tsuu T’ina as a bribe and an attempt to subvert the democratic process of the Nation.
MODERN RING ROAD PLANS 2003-CURRENT
2004 – Chief Sandford Big Plume of the Tsuu Tʼina and Premier Ralph Klein sign an Agreement in Principle to build the SW portion of the ring road through Tsuu Tʼina lands, with the province to purchase and retain control of the right-of-way.
2005 – Final framework agreement signed. Negotiations over cost, compensation and alignment begin.
2006 – After 15 years of ordnance clearing on the Harvey Barracks by the Federal Government, the land is formally returned to the Tsuu Tʼina.
2007 – Independent appraisal for Tsuu Tʼina lands completed.
2008 – A Functional Planning Study of the ring road is completed with a finalise route. A more-than-$1 billion construction estimate is attached to the project.
2009 – A final agreement is put to vote by members of the Tsuu Tʼina and is rejected by 60.5% of voters. The agreement called for $275 million dollars and 4858 acres of land to be exchanged for the 988 acres needed for the road. After the rejection, the Nation states that they are open to continuing the discussions and to tweak the deal. The Province decides to walk away from all negotiations, declaring the process ʻdeadʼ.
2009 – The Province and City sign a Memorandum of Understanding to develop a transportation corridor along 37th street.
2011 – The Province releases itʼs Functional Planning Study of the five potential corridors for the SW Ring Road, including a 37th street alignment.
2011 – The Tsuu Tʼina takes a poll of itʼs members, and with 68% in favour, the Nation agrees to re-open talks with the Province.
2011 – Transportation Minister Luc Ouelette states that the province will re-enter negotiations with the Tsuu Tʼina. The Province will re-word the portions of the 2009 deal that the Tsuu Tʼina took issue with, including the guarantee of a land swap. The compensation and alignment are said to remain unchanged from the 2009 agreement.
2011 – October deadline for an agreement missed. Alison Redford is elected as Premier, and a new Transportation Minister appointed.
2012 – The Progressive Conservative Party wins the general election, though Transportation Minister Ray Danyluck is defeated. Former Calgary Alderman and new MLA Ric McIver is announced as the new Transportation Minister. Negotiations are confirmed to be taking place.
2012 – In November, Chief Sandford Big Plume states “We are very close, even weeks away, from having a new deal to bring to (Nation members) for (their) consideration”.
2012 – Sandford Big Plume is defeated by Roy Whitney, who became the new Chief of the Tsuu T’ina. This marks Chief Whitney’s third non-consecutive run as Chief, who was first elected in 1984, and then again in 1988 before stepping down in 2001.
2013 – The Province and the Tsuu T’ina Nation complete a draft agreement for the ring road. In October the agreement is put to a vote of the Nation members, where it is approved. The Province will have 7 years from the time the lands transfers contain within the agreement are completed to construct and open the Southwest Calgary Ring Road. In November, the agreement is signed.
2014 – The remaining portions of the ring road, the Southwest and West legs, are proposed to be completed as separate projects, potentially under P3 agreements. Finance Minister Doug Horner mentions $5 billion as an estimate to finish the ring road.
And that is where the issue currently stands. 137 years after the signing of Treaty 7, 129 years after the establishment of Calgary, and nearly 60 years after the first announcement of a southwest Calgary by-pass route, it looks as if the road will become a reality, though the story is far from over.
Continue to check out the rest of the blog to read more about the current events and the history surrounding the road.